Recently I was asked for three suggestions for Christmas gift ideas for biking kids. But how to stop at three! Here are some ideas for all budgets (including no-budget) that will put a smile on the face of all kind of biking kids (and the not so young). Continue reading “Xmas gift ideas for biking kids”
Christmas is almost here, and you may have ‘bike’ on your list. If Santa needs some help from you, then here are some tips to successfully choosing the best bike for your child.
- Kids bikes are usually categorised by wheel size. So when a bike is described as a 12 inch bike, it is the wheels that are 12″.
- Usually the frame size is matched to the wheel size to cater for a particular age/size range.
- Once you get into adult bikes, there are fewer wheel sizes (depending on the type of bike: road, MTB, etc) and a range of frame sizes from Small to Extra Large to suit the height of the rider.
- Frame geometry and the type of handlebars (flat vs curved) will also determine how well the bike suits the rider.
- The height of the rider, rather than their age, is the most important determinant.
- Seat height and sometimes handlebar height are usually adjustable.
Top Tip: Don’t be tempted to buy a ‘too big’ bike to ‘grow into’ – there is a real risk that your child won’t be able to safely control a bike that is too big for them. Second hand bikes are a great way to ‘work through’ the size range as your child grows, as is sharing bikes around family and friends.
This great chart from New Zealand’s Bike Barn helps show the heights for each range:
See also: First bikes
- Brakes are an important safety consideration. Small children will find back-pedal brakes easier to manage than hand-squeeze brakes, because they often don’t have a lot of hand strength.
- Some chainstore bikes are self assembly. The assembly quality is a big factor in safety, so if in doubt, get a professional to assemble the bike or safety check your efforts.
- Second hand bikes should be safety checked by someone who knows what they are doing or your local bike shop.
- Helmets are compulsory and essential safety equipment.
- A bell is a great idea too: Ding a ling: why I like bells on bikes
- Not all bikes are created equal. Generally whether buying new or secondhand, you get what you pay for.
- Heavier bikes are usually cheaper, but harder for kids to manage
- Safety is your next most important quality concern – brakes, protrusions, stability, reliability, assembly.
- Unusual designs, like some retro cruisers or cheap knock-offs of innovative designs require a cautious approach and careful scrutiny. They may look cool but are they stable, steerable, safe and comfortable to ride? Will they last?
Its about the bling – Kids and Bike Shops
Taking a child into a bike shop is always an interesting experience. If asked for their opinion they will mostly likely choose the bike that is their favourite colour or comes with the most exciting accessories (think streamers, bells, doll carriers etc). Bling, accessories and decorations can be added to any bike. So choose the right bike for your child and then add the bling! Stickers, bells, spoke-dokes, streamers, tinsel, nameplates, artificial flowers, hooters, flags…. let your imagination run wild!
Check out these great articles and blog posts
Do you remember learning to ride a bike? Chances are you do: it was scary, exciting and a big deal. Mastering your first two-wheeler is a big milestone. Teaching your kid to ride a bike is a huge gift that lasts a lifetime. When you ride with them, you get to teach them so much more than the technical skill and physical coordination needed to avoid falling off…. in fact without even realising it you are teaching them some great life skills.
Put simply, our resilience is our ability to bounce back and persist even when things go wrong. It is the ability to get back on and keep riding, even in you fall off.
2. Overcoming Fears
When you’ve had the security of a trike or training wheels, it can be a scary experience to try and balance on two wheels. Other challenges along the way might be a bigger bike, a particular trail or hill, or learning to ride on the road. Providing the challenges are age appropriate and the child is ready for them, they can be a positive experience of overcoming fears, and enjoying the satisfaction of ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’.
Whether it is passing a too-small bike onto a younger child, or sharing a path or trail with other users, using a bike is all about sharing. Especially about sharing space safely. That means learning about other peoples different needs and about respect. Wouldn’t our communities be even better places if we all learned these lessons well when we were young.
Going on a bike ride, whether it is around the block or bigger adventure, will toss up some surprises along the way. We can’t control the weather, the roadworks, or the odd tumble. Chances to practice adapting to life’s curve-balls helps adults stay mentally flexible. For kids, it gives them a chance to see that even when things don’t go as expected, we can modify our plans and approach to make the most of the situation.
Falling off and getting back on; again and again. That’s how we learn to ride a bike right? And unless you’ve got an e-bike, you can’t get to the top of a hill without a fair does of persistence too.
As kids our parents do so much for us. Being able to safely and confidently ride a bike opens up a world of independent mobility for a child. If you can also teach them basic repairs and maintenance then they are literally ‘set for life’: a lifetime of active transport, adventure and fun. And you won’t be playing ‘taxi’ to your teens for years. Increasingly, young adults are turning their backs on car ownership, and fewer are gaining their drivers licenses. They’ll love being able to ‘cycle instead’.
7. Road Sense
Even as bike passengers, kids are exposed to the world of roads and traffic. They learn by observation. As you add in age appropriate instruction, their knowledge of road safety, etiquette and ability to keep themselves safe around traffic will continue to grow. It is no coincidence that a survey of Auckland driving instructors found that kids who cycle regularly make better drivers.
8. Self Confidence
When I wanted to know more about how kids feel about riding a bike, I asked teachers at my kids school if the students could do some writing on the topic. The results were awesome, and one of the repeating themes was the sense of mastery and accomplishment they felt when they pushed their limits, such as tackling a tough hill or track, or just keeping up with Dad. Biking is an activity where kids can participate on a fairly equal footing with Mum and Dad, especially as they get older. And because you can tailor it to their age and abilities, they can enjoy the thrill of achievement and the resulting boost to their self confidence.
9. Self care
Using bikes for everyday trips help develop healthy habits of regular physical activity. Longer rides emphasise the importance of good food and adequate sleep. And on all rides, taking proactive personal responsibility for staying safe is a skill we want our kids to have.
10. Risk Taking / Consequences
More and more we are realising that we don’t do our kids any favours by ‘wrapping them in cotton wool’. Put it this way, would you rather a seven year old experience the consequences of riding at speed and losing control; or a seventeen year old experience it behind the wheel of a car? So much of learning is experiential, and as parents we have the balancing act of keeping our kids safe whilst teaching them how to keep themselves safe (so they can do the job when we aren’t around). I’m not talking about putting your 7 year old on the main road to learn to ride; but am suggesting that blatting around the local school bike track at break-neck speed will soon teach them a thing or two about the laws of physics and the consequences.
What would you add to the list?
In Australia bells on bikes are mandatory. I think that makes good sense. Need convincing? Here are some good reasons for bells on bikes.
“Here I come!” A bell is a handy way to warn other path users of your approach. It avoids the “whoosh” surprise factor of having a cyclist “appear from nowhere” and frighten the life out of them. If you give enough warning you can also avoid those moments where you both move in the same direction instead of making way for each other.
“Wait for me”. Cycling with your kids or friends is a friendly activity. That means not accidentally leaving anyone behind. A bell can help with that by appealing “wait for me!”
“Look at that”. It would be a pity for the others in your group to miss some of the sights you’ve spotted, a bell can help call attention.
“Watch out for that”. A bell and some exaggerated gesturing can help warn your fellow riders of hazards like drains, glass, sand, etc
Choosing a bell. Some bells sound friendly. Others sound grouchy. Try it out and choose one that suits. I find ringing ones with a sliding lever and internal cog type mechanism last longer than the spring and ping type.
It doesn’t officially open until Sunday but we couldn’t wait that long to try out Napier’s newest cycle way. A flat 7 km loop close to Marine Pde and the city centre.
We started from Marine parade and joined the iway opposite Napier boys high school. Cycling along the waterfront is always a joy and we promised the kids we would stop at the junior bike park on our way back. The iWay meanders its way through reserve land. Often we were alongside the stream and criss-crossed it a number of time on bridges. The catch-cry of “ducks!” was well used, and we enjoyed glimpsing ducklings too.
“I came to a fork in the cycle path and I rode both routes and that has made all the difference”
Naturally all this exploring made our outing a celebration of slow cycling (you can have slow food, so why not slow cycling) and it really was about the journey. Although for Miss7, ice cream was definitely a destination she had in mind. We saved our discovery of a dairy until near the end…. A strategic choice. Somehow ice cream consumed after a sunny slow explorative wee cycle adventure tastes all the sweeter!
And on the home straight we checked out the junior bike track. It makes humorous and sometimes alarming viewing to see kids interpretation of the road rules. A clear indication they are not ready for the road.
Napier and Hastings are home to an awesome network of cycle ways. You can travel near and far on safe, sealed and mostly separate shared paths. It is a great spot for a family cycling holiday as there is so much to see and do. Thumbs up Napier!
Further info also available on the. NZ cycle trail website
For Wellingtonians this favourite ride is right on your back doorstep. It is a great family ride and easily completed by riders of all levels. Suitable for families with one caveat: if you have a cycle trailer you’ll need to be able to lift it over the gates (two near the start).
Part of the Rimutaka Cycle Trail, the incline is a gradual ascent following the path the old railway took prior to the current tunnel through the Rimutaka’s being built. At one point you pass by an exhaust vent for the current tunnel. Along the way there are remnants of railway history to explore, and informational signs highlighting the history and points of interest.
The trail is wide with a pretty good surface. Some parts are pot holed, and you need to take care of the deeper/looser surface on either side and the middle of the track. It is quite manageable and a good place for kids to learn about riding on this type of surface, providing they can exercise some restraint on the downhill. The natural environment is pretty and varied, with some pretty spots to stop for a snack.
When we do this ride we drive to the start, which is signposted off SH2, on your right past the Kaitoke turnoff. We park and ride to the summit and then enjoy the coast downhill back to the car. We usually clock it at about 22-24 km return. For years we did it with children in tow, firstly with trailers, and then on the trailgator. The first time I ever did it not towing a child was a revelation. Not that it is all that hard – gentle gradients were required to accomodate the steam locomotives that plyed the tracks up until 1955.
A picnic lunch, plenty of water and snacks are essential, as are jackets as it is often a tad chilly at the summit. There are toilets near the start, and again at the summit. See also: What’s in the bag?
Bring a torch or bike lights – just beyond the summit is the summit tunnel. And what child can resist a tunnel, especially a good long one like this! (584 m long).
MOBILE PHONE COVERAGE: The areas between Tunnel Gully and Cross Creek and around the south coast are remote and have little or no cellphone coverage.
DRINKING WATER: Carry enough water and food for your trip, as there is none on the way.
CHANGE OF CLOTHES: there is plenty of water nearby, including one water crossing with a choice of bridge or ford. If your kids are like mine, and magnetically drawn to water, then a change of clothes back in the car might be a handy thing to have.
WALKERS use this trail too, so mind your manners and speeds on the descent.
Going the Distance
The incline is just part of the whole adventure available to you:
Named one of the world’s hottest travel experiences for 2015, by travel guide Lonely Planet, the Rimutaka Cycle Trail is one of New Zealand’s Great Rides.
It’s part of Nga Haerenga – The New Zealand Cycle Trail and starts near the coolest little capital Wellington.
Through a broad river valley to bush-clad hills and gullies; from lakeside farmland to rugged southern coastline, the Rimutaka Cycle Trail is a 115km journey through distinctive New Zealand landscapes in the Wellington and Wairarapa regions.
We have ideas of doing it as a four day family adventure, so stay tuned for the full story.
Have you cycled the Rimutaka Incline or other parts of the Rimutaka Trail? What did you think?
Once you have your bikes you will need somewhere to ride them. This is where many dreams come unstuck resulting in bikes gathering dust and cobwebs. So how do you find where to ride?
Finding Places to Ride
You can find places to ride by:
- Exploring your neighbourhood (if it is not too hilly). A good start is a ride around the block, to the dairy or the park
- Asking other families where they ride
- Observing riders in your local area
- Looking at your council or regional council website for information
- Inquiring at your local i-site, who may have cycle maps available
- Checking in at your library for cycle maps and brochures from your local authority
- Reading books – the Kennett brothers have published a number of books focused on places to ride in New Zealand, including one on ‘Short Easy Bike Rides’
- Surfing the net, including local cycling-focused websites, search engines and online maps
To begin with, look for off-road paths so you can develop your skills without traffic on your shoulder. On a map, the key will identify them as dedicated or shared cycle paths. If it is tricky finding somewhere suitable to practice then think ‘outside of the box’.
The goldilocks zone for beginner riders
Just as Goldilocks liked her porridge not too hot and not too cold, a beginner rider has some comfort requirements too. Consider potential riding locations in light of:
- Reasonably flat (if you can walk it then usually you can bike it too, and you can always do both, i.e. walk the bike on tricky bits)
- Consistent surface, not too bumpy or rutted
- Little or no traffic
- Graded ‘Easy’ if it is a graded track
- If there is a hill, go uphill first: it is easier to have downhill on your homeward journey. Same applies to wind: having a tailwind on the trip home is wise.
School Bike Tracks
Bike tracks and skills courses within school grounds have become popular. Incorporating a variety of surfaces and terrain, these are great places to develop your skills in preparation for riding on ‘real trails’. ‘Bikes in Schools’ is a charitable trust that works with schools to develop bike tracks and ‘bike libraries’. Their blog contains links to schools who participate in the program: Bikes in Schools. Some schools with tracks are not part of this program, so it is worth asking around or exploring your local schools (outside school hours). Visiting a school bike track is a lot of fun, and has the added bonus of checking out their playground too! If they don’t have a bike track, their sealed paths, play areas and tennis courts provide useful riding surfaces.
School bike track: Gracefield School, Lower Hutt
Parks with Bike Tracks
Another wonderful initiative is that of local councils who incorporate bike tracks into their parks. These include mini road systems where children can learn the rules of the road, such as keeping left, giving way, and going the correct way around roundabouts. It can be very funny to watch! All kinds of bikes are welcome, from tots on their ride ons through to accompanying adults. Notable examples include Marine Parade in Napier (complete with traffic lights) and Avalon Park in Lower Hutt (huge road system complete with level crossings).
In parks you may also find shared use cycle/footpaths, BMX or mountain bike tracks and ‘skills areas’. A ‘skills area’ will have special built structures where you can practice various on or off road skills such as cornering, cycling over humps and bridges and holding your line on narrow courses.
Visiting a park with a bike track is a wonderful opportunity to develop skills in a safe place, and the availability of playgrounds, toilets and picnic facilities mean you can make it a great day out.
Avalon Park Bike Track, Lower Hutt
New Zealand Cycle Trail
The New Zealand Cycle Trail, Nga Haerenga, is an expanding network of rides throughout the country. Rides are grouped as ‘Great Rides’, showcasing the best of New Zealand’s scenery, and ‘Cycle Touring Routes’. You may find you have part of Nga Haerenga on your doorstep just waiting for you to explore it!
nzcycletrail.com is your go-to source for information about the trails, tracks and routes. This excellent website allows you to view ride options by region and grade. The grades range from 1:Easiest through to 5:Expert and are described on the website. Grade 1 is a great place to start.
You can also pick up a brochure about the New Zealand Cycle Trail from iSites and the Automobile Association (AA). Some good books have been written about the NZ Cycle Trail also, such as those by the Kennett Brothers.
Some of New Zealand’s ‘Great Rides’ are Rail Trails. Rail Trails are built on disused rail corridors. Usually the tracks are gone, but the supporting structures (like bridges and tunnels) and gentle gradients remain, making them the perfect place for a cycle trail. Although the whole trail length may take several days to complete, it is usually possible to ride sections of the trail according to what suits your family.
The Otago Central Rail Trail is New Zealand’s most famous example. Hugely popular with local and overseas visitors, it provides excellent family cycling and facilities.
In the Wellington region, the Rimutaka Incline follows the route of the old railway over the Rimutaka hills between Upper Hutt and the Wairarapa. It is a lovely cycle and includes a fabulous tunnel to explore near the summit.
Further north, the Hauraki Plains trail provides excellent cycling around the areas of Thames, Wahi and Te Aroha. The Te Aroha to Wahi leg is particularly scenic and memorable. Part of the old railway is still in use as a vintage train ride attraction, which you can take bikes on, or you can enjoy riding the scenic cycling trail built near the railway line.
Your local area may be rich in cycling trails that have been built by your local authorities, or in the case of off-road trails, by willing volunteers. There is no single source of information on these trails and pathways. Your can start by checking your local council or regional authority website, inquiring at i-sites, or generally asking around. Some local bodies produce printed cycle maps which are very handy. Others prefer you to rely on their signage: not so handy as signs can go missing and get defaced. Cycle maps and signs only provide limited ‘reference’ information as a guide, so it is a good idea to have a proper map, portable satnav or smart phone map. If you are cycling off-road, unless the trails are especially well marked and short, a topographic map may be advisable.
Local trails can vary a lot. Some are concrete paths gently meandering beside a stream. Others are a network of shared use paths and quiet on-road cycling that form a connected network to get you from A to B. Caution is needed as many cycle routes are works in progress and may not well connected yet. You can be happily cycling along a well built off-road path and find it suddenly ends with nowhere for you to go but join the road or turnaround and head back. Funding for cycling facilities is a very small portion of the local bodies budget, so support for cycling facilities is essential. Other paths are built by volunteers or using community funds, e.g. the Rotary pathways in Hawkes Bay, Lower Hutt and Pakuranga.
New Zealand’s leading authors of cycling books specific to New Zealand are the Kennett Brothers. They have written over twenty titles and have something for everybody. Your local library may be a source of books on cycling. Many books are focused on the sports of cycling and mountain biking, and on cycle touring. Although less relevant to finding shorter family friendly rides, they may offer some ideas about beginner rides you could try.
What is your top place to ride with your kids?
Covering everything from Cycling whilst Pregnant through Biking with babies, toddlers, teaching your child to ride and cycling to school, this great guide from the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is a great resource to have in your bookmarks. It was too good a find not to share!
Do you need a bit of motivation, or some well reasoned selling points up your sleeve? Here are my top 10 answers to the question of “Why cycle with kids?”:
- It is fun. Kids know it, and just to convince the grown ups…. have you noticed how many bikes are used in advertising these days. There is a reason for that: bikes are a symbol of fun, freedom and adventure. Biking is about simple, un-rushed pleasure.
- It is slow. Huh? Aren’t we too busy to be slow? Well, yes, exactly! Sometimes we just need to slow down and see what we are missing when we rush through our lives. Biking with your kids means really experiencing the world around you, stopping to explore or chat, and moving at a more child friendly pace for a while.
- It is time. Of all the gifts we give our children the ones they remember most are time and shared experiences. Getting out on our bikes and sharing some time together, undistracted by chores, devices or interruptions is a precious gift indeed.
- It is learning. Some of the best learning of all comes so well disguised that we don’t even realise it is happening. Biking together is an opportunity to learn new skills, impart knowledge and tell family stories. And not just about cycling: about the world around us, perseverance, courage, trying new things, respect, tolerance, navigation, self-management…. the list is huge.
- It is sharing. Paths, tracks, footpaths, road space – when you are out on the bike you are sharing space with other people. People on foot, cars, other bike users, farmers, disabled users, dog-walkers, etc. Learning to share with care is a life skill worthy of it’s own mention. Our kids will be much better and safer drivers from having been coached in this skill from an early age.
- It is healthy. 1 in 9 Kiwi kids are obese and plenty more are overweight. We are not moving as much as we should, and are surrounded by lots of yummy treats that are just a little bit too easy to get hold of. So have your cake (ice cream, chocolate…) and eat it too: food is energy in, cycling is energy out. My kind of maths!
- It is green. Using a bike instead of a car for some of your trips is a worthy goal to have. The vast majority of our car trips are less than 3km. With kids that might seem to far to walk, but definitely not to far to cycle. When you start out cycling for fun on the weekend, it may give you the confidence you need to use your bike for other trips too, and then we all win: you, your health, and our planet.
- It is outside. ‘Nature deficit disorder’ is a term coined to describe the challenge that we are not spending enough time outdoors. Research is increasingly showing just how much we benefit from time outside. Beyond the exercise benefits, it is a great stress-reducer. In our busy lives that sounds just the ticket!
- It is a life skill. The world is changing, our lives are busier, our cities are more populous and congested. The worlds best thinkers are struggling with these challenges. Many agree that riding a bike is a good way to address some of those problems: encouraging us to live closer to where we work and play, and reducing the amount of traffic pollution and congestion. Riding safely and confidently is a key to independent mobility later in life. And it might even mean you aren’t signing up to be your kids taxi driver well into their teen years.
- It is fun. Is it cheating to mention fun twice? No surely not! ( I have many more reasons I could put in instead). Fun gets a second mention because it is the top reason to bike with your kids. And who doesn’t want more fun in their life!
There you have it, motivation sorted. Just remember the saying “the hardest part of going for a run is getting your shoes on”. Sometimes getting started is tricky, but we get going when we focus on just how great it will be once we are on our way and doing what we enjoy. Now you’ve got 10 things to focus on, so grab your bikes and get out there!
Despite the cold blast of recent days, there are plenty of signs that Spring is here. The days are getting longer, the weather is warming up, buds are on the trees and the blue sky beacons me to head outside.
Has winter had you off your bike, enjoying some hibernation? If so your bike (and you?) might need a wee bit of attention. So use the arrival of spring as your inspiration to dust off your bike, give it a bit of TLC and head out to enjoy the splendor of Spring.
Spring-tune your bike
- Dust it off. Check the frame for any signs of damage or rust.
- Pump it up. Check your tyres and pump them to the recommended pressure. A floor pump is a good investment for a biking family
- Chain reaction. Check your bikes chain and gears. Clean off any dust, grime or rust. Lube the chain (it should look silky)
- Accesorise. Make sure your helmet is fitting well and undamaged. Check your pump, spare tube, bike lights and other minimum equipment (see what’s in the bag) are all present and correct.
- Check your brakes. Always do this before a ride (and after fixing a puncture). Make sure they engage well and don’t feel spongy.
For more safety check tips check out this booklet from the NZTA.
If you spot problems or are concerned about the state of your bike, pop into your local bike shop and talk about a safety check or service.
Helping your kids perform these steps is a great way to teach them how to look after their bike. Now you are ready! Where will you go?